Happy New Year, bytches. Late in 2014 I began salivating over the announcement of the National Gallery’s autumn blockbuster for 2015 featuring no fewer than 70 Goya portraits. God it was wonderful. In 2015 galleries surprised me with some pleasant turns of ingenuity – I discovered obscure pastel genius Liotard at the Royal Academy, and my hatred of Damien Hirst thawed with the opening of Newport Street gallery. So when I scanned the planned shows for 2016, a year in which we will welcome new directors aplenty – Hartwig Fischer at the British Museum, Alex Farquharson at Tate Britain (who I will forever mispronounce as Lord Farquaad as in Shrek) – it seems as if everyone’s already given up in trying to outdo or even match last year’s success. Remember that weird Royal Academy show of Rubens which was light on actual Rubens but heavy on ‘look, Rubens influenced everyone from Constable to Turner to Van Dyck and Sarah Lucas and everyone ever’? We’re going to have a lot of more of that.
The V & A will mount ‘Botticelli Reimagined’, an “innovative” display which will track the influence of this Italian master of tempera from the Renaissance to today. Given such wide (or non-existent) chronological parameters, geographical inclusivity and general fluffiness of terms, expect much waffly filler and thoroughly inventive ways of making a tenuous link and arguing that it is in fact not a tenuous link. An exhibition such as this however is always worth seeing for oddity and amusement value; the RA was thoroughly absorbing in its baffling insistence that the influence of Rubens may be detected in tea leaves and cloud shapes, but I expect my expression at this Botticelli show will be the same incredulous, WTF contortion throughout.
The National, after spoiling us with super blockbusters on Veronese, Rembrandt and most recently Goya, has announced as its 2016 blockbuster ‘Beyond Caravaggio’. At least here the survey is not up to present day but limited to his followers and the subsequent decades, so the scope for bullshit is instantly minimised. I am suspicious that the show might take the strategy of its Vermeer and Music show which had only a couple of Vermeers but an absolute ton of filler. If you’re going to do a survey of many artists, don’t insult your audience by assuming they will only come if you slap a big name in the exhibition title, and then not give them it. (Oh god, is it actually a marker of how dire things are now that you can’t market a show as simply ‘A Great Bunch of Very Good Dutch Stuff From X Era’?) Similarly, the RA will do ‘In the Age of Georgione’, which appears the most focused of the lot in pinpointing a key – and little explored – turn in Venetian art during the Renaissance. However it is unclear from their release if Georgione is the subject, or a group of works from this historical and geographical location, or both.
I’m beginning to liken these shows to what are called ‘bottle episodes’ in television; when budgets were low producers wrote episodes requiring no extra sets, non-regular cast members, props or other expenses: in short, making use of everything already at hand. Red Dwarf’s ‘Marooned’ is a classic. These are cost-effective exhibitions applying a little imagination to make their contents – i.e. whatever is already within its collections – go a little further without having to spend money on getting the Uffizi to loan their Botticelli Primavera.
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